Monday, July 31, 2006

More architect's views of the new building

Front Facing NW, 1150 N. Hollywood Way Left, an updated view of the front of our new building at 1150 N. Hollywood Way in Burbank, courtesy of Kalban and Associates. This is looking to the southwest, from Hollywood Way ... Front Facing SW, 1150 N. Hollywood Way ... and this would be looking northeast from Hollywood Way. Note that we do not think we are going to be putting the disk logo on the front of the building, or at least not this prominently. (We also won't be putting the guild's initials "TAG" up on any walls. We feel this might, ah, send the wrong message to Los Angeles street artists.) Click here to read entire post

The Return of "Rough Inbetweeners"?

Above: Eric Goldberg (center) encounters Dave Zaboski and Henry Sato. Cartoon by Tom Sito.
A gag cartoon from the early nineties...having a little fun with a job title... And what were (are?) "rough inbetweeners?" Well, they are not artists who are into spiked clubs and bondage, if that's what you're thinking. During the nineties boom of hand-drawn animation, "Rough Inbetweeners" were a group of animation artists who were on the "animator" training cycle. "Rough Inbetweener" was the first stop on the way to becoming a full animator (the way station being "Animating Assistant") See, in the roaring nineties, there were two tracks for artists working in animation classifications at Disney-DreamWorks-Warners Feature Animation. They were either climbing the ladder that lead to "animator," or they were on the cean-up side of the equation, cleaning up the animators' rough (sometimes very rough) drawings. So if you were an "inbetweener" in 1993, you were quite often working in cleanup. The studios designated the non-cleanup artists as "rough inbetweeners." There was only "inbetweeners" in the union contract. Now, of course, with the upcoming reappearance of hand-drawn features, those brutish "Rough Inbetweeners" might be coming back. Click here to read entire post

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Miniglut, Week 2 (Sunday Edition)

We now move into week two of a three-week miniglut of CG features. Last week Monster House managed second place in a very crowded box office weekend. This weekend, MH is expected to battle DNA's The Ant Bully for third place. The Ant Bully is getting mixed reviews (54% positive so far on Rotten Tomatoes). One could argue that the film probably won't do so well because the audience if fatigued from so many other CG features this year, but I think the bigger problem is that Ant Bully looks too much like animated films we've already seen. . . As usual, updates to follow. SATURDAY UPDATE: The big news is it appears that The Ant Bully is tanking. We hate to jump to conclusions after just the Friday opening, but 5th place with an estimated $2.65 million points towards a sub-10 million dollar first weekend, and an eventual domestic gross of well below $50 million. This is not exactly stellar news for Warner Bros. or DNA. Monster House did a little better, pulling 4th place on Friday ($3.6 million), which is about par for the course after it's $22.2 million opening weekend. Cars has finally dropped out of the top 10. SUNDAY UPDATE: "MH" pulled in another $11,500,000 (if the estimates hold up), coming in at #4, and "Ant Bully" landed at the fifth spot in its debut. "Ants" total was $8,145,000. Tellingly, "Monster House", even though it's in 500 more theatres than the insect saga, pulled a higher per-screen average ($3,256 to $2,670). So despite the big name voice talents and the Tom Hanks connection, "AB" simply couldn't find a sizable audience. Perhaps it was because it seemed to be a retread of CG pictures that had gone before, or maybe Warner Bros. just didn't get its act together distribution-wise, but Sam Goldwyn's long-ago axium once again proved true: "When people don't want to come and see your movie, you can't stop them." SUNDAY UPDATE II: Oh yes, and "Cars" fell 50%. It now has a domestic total of $234,649,000. This, while not quite as high as "Finding Nemo," still makes it the second highest-grossing film of the year. Which brings to mind this from The Onion (which we have updated slightly): STUDIOS SUE PIXAR, DEMAND BAD MOVIE "Stop making the rest of us look bad," demand Hollywood executives Hollywood — The eight major Hollywood studios have filed suit against CGI animation company Pixar for its consistent record of quality movies. The complaint alleges that with its seventh consecutive profitable and critically acclaimed film in Cars,” Pixar is overturning a decades-long public relations campaign waged by Hollywood studios to convince the public that it’s impossible to consistently make high quality films. “If Pixar doesn’t get with the program, we’re going to have to fundamentally change the way we do business,” groused Paramount chairwoman Sherry Lansing, whose studio hasn’t produced a hit film in several years. “I repeat my recommendation to Steve Jobs that he pay John Travolta and Halle Berry $20 million each to provide voices for an effects-laden remake of ‘The Fox and the Hound.’” Plaintiffs in the suit are Paramount, Universal, MGM, Fox, Disney, Warner Bros., Dreamworks, and Sony Pictures. All eight studios have worked together since 1980 in a sophisticated PR effort to make all Americans believe that it’s inevitable most films will be poor to mediocre. The campaign has included payoffs to critics, training for film school professors, and talking points distributed to corporate spokespeople. Because of the successful campaign, executives have successfully built a system in which they spend tens of millions of dollars each year on development and end up producing as many critically and commercially successful films as a monkey throwing darts at a board would, according to scientific studies. Asked for comment, a Pixar spokesperson said he believes the suit was motivated by studio executives’ indignation that Pixar and Apple CEO Steve Jobs refused to send them each a free iPod Photo. According to the studios’ talking points, it’s impossible to consistently make more than 50% of films be high quality, with an average hit to miss ratio of 1:2. But with its six profitable and acclaimed films, Pixar is beginning to make many Americans questions why it actually seems possible to consistently make successful films. “Those guys are ruining it for everybody,” said Warner Bros. president Alan Horn. “We can’t possibly be expected to stay in business when we’re up against a studio that doesn’t have dozens of unqualified young executives with little or no background or interest in film meddling in the creative process of all their movies.” “It just goes to show what I’ve always said,” added Universal Chairwoman Stacy Snider. “It should be illegal for companies outside of Los Angeles to produce motion pictures.” The complaint asks that a court award the eight studios $1 billion in damages or compel Pixar to hire 118 unqualified development executives, option the rights to 38 scripts and books it has no intention of turning into films, and immediately greenlight sequels to “Toy Story” and “Finding Nemo” with $100 million-plus budgets and hire directors whose only experience is in music videos to oversee them. Click here to read entire post

Saturday, July 29, 2006

The CGI Crystal Ball

Since President Koch is off to SIGGRAPH, here is the way various industry execs foretell animation's future... The HOLLYWOOD REPORTER article makes some good points, but also (I think) some silly ones: The profusion of CG-animated features has an upside, according to Janet Healy, president of animation production at IDT Entertainment, a Newark, N.J.-based firm acquired by Liberty Media for $186 million in May. "When you're making a movie for $100 million, plus overhead, that movie has to be all things to all people," says Healy, a former technology executive at Disney and DreamWorks. "When you're making movies for $25 million or $30 million, as we are, you can tell stories about characters who are inspiring or heroic or entertaining, not just joke-filled roller-coaster rides." Hopeful words, but let's get down to brass tacks. You've got to have three things for a successful animated flick. The first is decent distribution. The second is a viable ad campaign. The third -- and equally important -- elements is a picture that CONNECTS with its audience. I think we're seeing with "Ant Bully" the first animated feature melt-down since "The Wild," and for much the same reasons. If you jump into the marketplace with a product that's perceived as a lacklustre copy of animated features that have gone before, you have big problems. "Antz" and "A Bug's Life" have already plowed the ground through which "Ant Bully" now burrows. And if early reports are accurate, the public appears to be staying away in droves. Three months ago the same thing happened to "The Wild." It wasn't a bad feature, exactly, but the audience believed it had perused this real estate before. This is not, by the way, a new pheonomenom. When Warner Bros. and Fox attempted to ape Disney's late eightes/early nineties successes ("Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast," "Aladdin") with offerings like "Anastasia" and "Quest For Camelot," they fell flat on their faces. Same thing, sixty-eight years ago, with the Fleischers chasing Walt Disney. It seems like a no-brainer, but the public wants what it wants, and rejects what it doesn't. This seems to us closer to present realities: While the first decade of computer-animated features, beginning with "Toy Story," was ruled by three major players that cranked out successful big-budget movies, some animation executives expect their field to look more like the realm of live-action movies during its second decade, with diverse budgets, stories, characters and visual styles. Williamson compares the surge in CG features to "the indie film phenomenon of the late 1980s and early 1990s, where you had a huge volume spike in independently made live-action movies. Only the good ones stand out." We are swimming in the middle of the latest animation tidal wave. The last one crashed onto shore in the center of the 1990s. This one looks to be considerably bigger. But it's driven by a similar dynamic. Executives see the tall piles of money being made by DreamWorks, Pixar, and Blue Sky Animation, and assume that the best way to start raking in cash is to produce ninety minutes of brightly colored pixels that bear a passing resemblance to the films of the successful players. But it never works that way. You don't succeed (at least, not very much or for very long) by copying last year's hits. You break box office records by taking an audience where it hasn't travelled before. Unfortunately, most studio front offices get very nervous when film makers try to do that. Oh, they TALK about films that are "new and original," but they actually WANT what John Lasseter made his last time or two at bat. Why? Because it's safe. Click here to read entire post

Friday, July 28, 2006

No Atheists in Fox Holes

The old saw that there are zero non-believers on battle fields has its equivalent cliche in cgi-land today: "There are no unionists in computer graphics studios. Everybody's a libertarian." But the formulations, I submit, are really one hundred and eighty degrees apart. Over the past fifty years, unionized industries in the United States have down-sized and down-sized again. In 1950, forty percent of the American workforce was repped by some labor organization or other. In 2006, it's down to around 12% -- depending on how you do the counting. The great exception to this steady shrinkage has been the American motion picture and television industry. There, the Directors Guild of America, the Writers Guild of America, the Screen Actors Guild and IATSE have maintained robust representation over the people who struggle to make a living in the entertainment business. The exception to this exception has been in computer graphics imaging. Show me a visual effects shop or digital game company, and I'll show you a studio filled with staunch free-thinkers who claim to need no help from anybody. (An executive from Blue Sky Animation told me a few years ago: "An animator came into my office last week and said he was a rugged individualist, didn't need help from anybody, made his own way in the world, yada yada. I said, 'Fine. We'll drop you out of a plane into the Canadian North Woods with a knife and loin cloth. And we'll see how long you and your rugged individualism lasts out there.'") His point was: all the "rugged individualists" are just as dependent on the trappings of benevolent civilization -- the power grids, high capacity computers, and interconnectivity of broad-band networks -- as the weepy, bleeding-heart liberals who had the bad judgement to vote for Al Gore. "Rugged individualism," he went on to say, is mostly a state-of-mind that flowers when things are going swimmingly. But confront a grizzly in a stand of tall, first-growth pine trees, and knife and loin cloth seem somehow inadequate. Where's a shotgun, or the 101st Airborne, when you need them? When the chips clatter down, most libertarians and individualists turn into Roosevelt Democrats (non-atheists?). The labor strikes that got animation and the rest of the movie industry unionized sixty-seven years ago did not occur in a vacume. There was a depression going on, and lots of artists were making twelve to sixteen dollars per week. So it was easy for them to get religion. There was also a Washington power structure (those nasty Roosevelt Democrats again) who already had it. We're pretty much on the other side of the compass from those perilous times, but underlying dynamics are still the same: when employees feel used and abused, they start looking around for remedies. In the past fifteen years its happened numerous times: IDT Entertainment/Film Roman staffer became militant when their health benefits and pensions were cut. Disgruntled employees voted for unionization at Hyperion Productions, at "Clifford the Big Red Dog, the Movie" at small studios and large studios. When management gets perceived as being mean and nasty, employee attitudes change. In the wink of an eye, libertarians became unionists. There are no atheists in foxholes when times get tough enough. And now here we are at the height of the cgi animation boom, and lots of people are feeling self-confident about their careers. Nothing but good times as far as the eye can see, just as it was in 1995, at the crest of the last big animation wave. (Seems like little more than an eye-blink, but it's been a whole ten years. A thousand lay-offs ago.) Lots of CGI animation is unionized, but big chunks of it aren't, most notably PDI and Pixar. I get asked all the time by Disney and DreamWorks employees when PDI and Pixar are "going union," and I mostly give the same anwer: When PDI and Pixar employees are good and ready. For if history is any guide, it won't be management that pushes for unionization, whether management considers itself "liberal" or not. (One Disney Feature staffer recently told me in wonderment: "I went up to Emeryville, and a management guy bragged to me about what a hard-core Democrat he is. Oh, except he didn't care for unions at all." Which is a little like being a Civil Rights enthusiast who doesn't like black people. But hey. What's a little hypocrisy in 2006 America? It's almost mandatory.) So, as always, it's up to the board artists, writers, designers, scene finalers and animators to decide on the path they want to take. When the uncompensated overtime stacks up high enough, when weekly pay checks and health benefits are cut deeply enough, then the church organ will commence playing and attitudes -- and the non-guild studios in which they dwell -- will change. How does it go? There are no atheists in fox holes. Click here to read entire post


I'll be heading off to Boston this weekend for SIGGRAPH. I'll be on the Is a Career in Computer Graphics Possible? Part 2: Dedication and Expectation panel. Of course, this being my first SIGGRAPH, I have no idea myself what to expect, but I'm looking forward to it (especially because it's in Boston). I'll give a report when I get back. And if any of you have any suggestions for making it a good time, I'm all ears. Click here to read entire post

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Worldwide Weekend B.O.

In the sweltering heat, I'm guessing it was pretty rank. But that's not what we're talking about here. We're talking BOX OFFICE... Daily VARIETY has worldwide figures, and the Mouse House is doing pretty well. "Pirates of the Caribbean, 2nd installment" has socked away $535,995.233 (making Johnny Depp well worth his big paycheck for reprising Cap'n Sparrow...) "Over the Hedge" is thundering along nicely, with a cume that stands at $259,721,311. And "Cars" has taken in $326,670,636 through last Sunday. So Disney is closing in on a billion dollars with two summer pictures. (Domestic b.o. here.) Click here to read entire post

Mid-Week Studio Reconaissance

The march of Yours Truly through various signator shops goes on (like always). The report: At the Fox Studios on Wilshire (where work continues on "Family Guy" and "American Dad"), we find "American Dad" artists rolling onto hiatuses of three to six weeks. "AD" is now working on its third season... At Disney Toons, which now occupies part of the second and third floors of the Frank G. Wells Building on the Disney Burbank lot and the second floor of the Disney Sonora Building in Glendale, work wraps up on "Cinderella III" and continues on "Mermaid III". Earlier in the week, artists told me that Toons top kick Sharon Morrill came through, holding meetings with Toons personnel; I'm informed that she said there would be cutbacks in the number of Toons releases going forward, but that nobody was going to be laid off of current productions. Rather, staff would be reduced through attrition as the number of projects shrink. (Disney Toons has been on a roll of late, what with "Bambi II" exceeding the studio's expectations as regards units sold. But Disney, per the trades, is in the midst of a down-sizing cycle.) Click here to read entire post

Visual Development Made Crystalline

Animation Guild members at the General Membership Meeting Tuesday evening were held in thrall as visual development artists Mike Kurinsky, Paul Shardlow and Paul Lasaine explained what they did and how they did it, showing samples of their work as they went along. First, the introductions... Mike Kurinsky was a background painter at Disney for nine years. When hand-drawn animation was phasing out at Disney, he got a serendipitous call from Mike Humphries at Sony Pictures Animation to do visual development work, and moved over. Paul Lasaine began in live-action, primarily in visual effects as a matte painter. After interviewing for a job at Amblimation, he later received a call from startup company DreamWorks to work in visual development. He is now a production designer at Sony Pictures Animation. Paul Shardlow's fondest desire was to be a famous painter, but discovered that he "starved at it" when beginning his career in London. Realizing he had a knack for animation, he moved over to that field. Happily for him, there was a great deal of animation being done in Great Britain at the time, and Mr. Shardlow found himself steadily employed. He has worked all over Europe, then at DreamWorks for a decade, and is now at Sony. Shardlow said that visual development covers many things. He said he particularly enjoys doing "inspirational artwork" before the script is written or finalized. Coming from Europe, and the smaller budgets there, he gets upset when he sees money wasted, and strives to be efficient and economical. Paul was the first visual development artist on "Over the Hedge" and stayed on it as an Art Director until the film was completed. He playfully referred being asked to stay on a film once it goes into production as a mixed blessing. Shardlow believes in working as close to what the final film images will look like as possible. He recalled the seductive, beautiful gauche paintings for Shrek, which of course looked nothing like the finished film. He also described himself as something of a technophobe, but proudly stated that he's fiddled with Maya until he boiled it down to what he considered the absolute essentials. He believes that Maya is now an indispensable tool for a visual development artist on today's features, and that he can do development work in days that previously would have taken weeks. The great thing about Maya is the artist can quickly build a three-dimensional model of the set being rendered, and texture it in Photoshop. His bottom line is that any solution is a good one if it works. Sometimes that means painting a solution, sometimes that means photographing an environment and compositing in elements. "Cheating" is good if it helps what the artist doing. Paul Lasaine said that sometimes directors or executives have a tough time visualizing just the part of the CGI set that is being used, so a visual development artist has to build the whole set, even though a small fraction of it will be seen on film. He treats visual development as "classic set design," and thinks of himself as an environmental designer. Sometimes a visual development artist will "design" entire sequences, emphasizing color, mood, and time of the day. Visual development artists used to do thousands of painting for a traditional feature film. Now much more is done digitally, and the work is more focused. As an example of storytelling through design, Lasaine referred to The Prince of Egypt, where two design styles were used for the two contrasting groups in the film: For the Egyptians, it was straights, formal, and grand; for the Hebrews, everything was twisted and organic. He says that "design is design," and treats his animation and live action work the same. The development process has two general phases, a "blue sky" period where he gets to dream and play with artwork, then the budget and production phase kicks in requiring specific solutions. Lasaine showed some impressive paintings in acrylics done for Lord of the Rings. In doing that work he sometimes went on location and took photographs, then headed back to the studio to paint, using the photographs as reference. Artist Mike Kurinsky said that on SPA's upcoming Open Season, they looked to Eyvind Earle's work on Sleeping Beauty for inspiration, then had to answer the question, "How would Earle have painted a log cabin or a diner?" He's now art directing on SPA's Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, which has gone through several sets of directors, with significant design style changes and evolutions each time. The current directors came from the 2-D world of Cartoon Network and had those sensibilities, so they wanted the visual development artists to push their designs in that direction. Most everything he does now is digital. He says that visual development is about giving the directors of the film a lot of choices and different ways they might go. All the panelists emphasized that visual development involves generating lots of images and possibilities, then accepting that the vast majority of their work will never be seen (but that they probably didn't have it as bad as story artists in that respect). [The above is a compilation of notes from both Steve Hulett and Kevin Koch. There's sure to be some distortions and inaccuracies in there, but we tried to capture the gist of the discussion. We'll be happy to correct anything we got wrong. There are no illustrations for this post because, well, you had to be there -- we saw some beautiful artwork, despite the technical difficulties with the projection system.] Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

More 1990s caricatures

Derek Lestrange, by Jeff Johnston. Below: Frans Vischer, by Dini Athanassiou. Artwork from the 1995 Screen Cartoonists Datebook.
More caricatures from the middle nineties (these appeared in the TAG datebook that Tom Sito did for the year 1995). Derek was a cleanup artist at Turner Feature Animation around this time; Frans Vischer was storyboarding and directing. Both artists are still working in the field. These are lively drawings, so we share them with you. Click here to read entire post

We Don't Get No Respect, Indeed

I long ago stopped being surprised by the level of ignorance and misinformation that surrounds the word "union." It's bad enough that most people take what they know about unions from episodes of The Sopranos -- that's simply ignorance at work. More disturbing is the intentional misinformation that's regularly spread from some quarters. As an example, here's a passage from a book published this year, by a serious writer, historian, and journalist, describing the Disney strike of 1941: "As he employed a good many intellectuals, artists, and writers who at that period leaned overwhelmingly toward the left, this produced tension at the Disney Studios and, in 1940, led to a strike aimed either at forcing Disney to make pro-Communist propaganda cartoons or at shutting the studio down. Disney defeated the strike, with some help from J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, and pursued his own individual way until his death." Say what?!? The strikers tried to force Walt to make Commie propaganda? And J. Edgar was there, bra and lacy panties under his G-Man suit, cigar clenched between his teeth, helping crack those pinko's heads? Yeah, right. . . This crap is by Paul Johnson, in his 2006 book "Creators: From Chaucer and Durer to Picasso and Disney." Mark Mayerson recently posted about this error-riddled book on his excellent blog, Mayerson on Animation. Cartoon Brewmaster Amid Amidi also comments about the book, and points out that the author is a far right-wing religious fundamentalist . Not that there's anything wrong with being far right or fundamentalist, but is that an excuse to lie? And what of the editors at HarperCollins? Was it really so hard to do some fact checking? I've talked to Tom Sito about the incredible rigor with which his editors have vetted the information in his upcoming book, "Drawing The Line." Every last little thing he wrote required multiple sources and verification. We can only hope that, after Tom's book is published, future "historians," despite whatever private agenda they may have, will find it more difficult to publish nonsense. [The intriguing cartoon illustrating this post is by editorial cartoonist Gavin Coates, from] Click here to read entire post

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Spirit Viz Dev by Paul Shardlow

Art by Paul Shardlow, (C) DreamWorks
My excuse for posting these images is to remind everyone again of the General Membership Meeting tonight at Local 44, and the panel discussion on visual development. But my ulterior motive for posting this is because DreamWorks never did any "Art of" books for their most beautiful films, and there's a mountain of absolutely beautiful work that pretty much no one will ever see. Here's a tiny sampling of development art by Paul Shardlow, one of our panelists tonight, from DreamWorks' Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron . . . These are from a couple of sequences that ended up being cut from the film. Originally Spirit descended through the stages of horse hell, continually escaping and being recaptured, each time ending up somewhere worse. The human world was to be a disorienting nightmare for the wild horse, and he would eventually end up in a mine, sentenced to work until he died, without ever seeing the light of day again. One last escape would land him in the middle of a forest fire, where a frontiersman would help him -- the first human to treat him with kindness, and the first human to be allowed on his back.
Art by Paul Shardlow, (C) DreamWorks
Art by Paul Shardlow, (C) DreamWorks
Art by Paul Shardlow, (C) DreamWorks
Art by Paul Shardlow, (C) DreamWorks
Art by Paul Shardlow, (C) DreamWorks
Art by Paul Shardlow, (C) DreamWorks
Art by Paul Shardlow, (C) DreamWorks
Art by Paul Shardlow, (C) DreamWorks
Art by Paul Shardlow, (C) DreamWorks
Art by Paul Shardlow, (C) DreamWorks
I absolutely love this last image. This scene would have taken place moments after the images in the dark mine, and you can feel the change in mood. Ultimately the story was judged to be simply too painful to watch, and people in the studio began to refer to it as "Schindler's Horse." There was a sardonic playfulness to that tag, but the original version of the film would have been as dark and heartrending as "Schindler's List." I think that version would have been a better film, but I also think it would have scared everyone away from the box office.
Art by Paul Shardlow, (C) DreamWorks
I had a copy of this last image taped up in my room while animating on Spirit. It perfectly captured the insanity of animating herds of realistic horses by hand. What masochists we were.
Click here to read entire post

Comicon Snapshots

Forget the comic books, this is what I wanted from San Diego.
My time at Comicon was brief this year, so this won't be anything close to a full report on the Con. I took the train for the first time -- stressful in its own way (tip: get to the terminal early, even if you have reserved your tickets, and expect unexpected delays) but still easier than driving and wasting hours dealing with parking. My main reason for going was because I was a panelist on ASIFA-Hollywood's "State of the Animation Industry" panel, expertly moderated by Larry Loc. Despite having a panel that was too large (9 of us!), a room that was too small (it was truly SRO), and not enough time (this year it was one hour, instead of the usual 90 minutes), the panel went extremely well. The panel discussed the news (at least it was news to most people there, but not regular internet readers) that Disney was back in the hand-drawn animation biz, with Ron and John on "The Frog Princess," and the new Disney shorts program. Eric Goldberg also premiered a charming 8-minute Zen Buddhist short with three very Warner Bros.' monkeys gaining enlightenment. The only down side to the panel was that about a dozen audience members had their hands in the air for questions that we didn't have nearly enough time to answer. But then, it's always better to leave them wanting more . . . It was so impossibly crowded that I didn't even try to cover most of the convention center. I took my time and snapped a few photos whenever I saw an animator at a table. Here's "Meet the Robinsons" art director Robh Ruppel teasing me with his sold-out sketchbook. He seems to have a thing for drawing ugly women. (I hope it's clear from the photo I'm being ironic here.) Martin Ansolabehere and his way cool Kid Evil creations. Carol Berke and "Hornswiggle" creator/Cartoon Brewmaster/button collector Jerry Beck. Don't you love the way they're blurry and the fanboys in the background are in focus? I hate digital cameras. Kathy Zielinski shows off some preliminary work on her short film. The magical James Burke and his "Martin's Misdirection" comic strip goodies. Chris Sanders takes a cell-phone break. Steven Gordon taking time out for the fans. Lauren Faust, Craig McCracken, and Tom Kenny meeting their peeps. Ahhh, Hot Wheels. Does a guy ever really outgrow Hot Wheels? That's it for the photos. Sorry for their abysmal quality. If you're interested in photos of the crazy costumes, go here. Lots of pirates this year. Lots. Click here to read entire post

Good Times at Warner Bros. Feature Animation (circa 1995)

Right: Dennis Edwards and Peter Gullerud, by Peter Gullerud.
Warner Bros. Animation has been around, like, forever. But Warner Bros. FEATURE Animation was an entity separate and distinct from WBA. WBFA was born in response to the Disney Feature juggernaut of the early 1990s, and headquartered in a glossy high-rise on Brand Boulevard in Glendale, California. It's short, tumultuous life lasted approximately four years... WBFA occupied four or five floors of office space and was launched with high ambitions and high salaries. Ralph Eggleston, the art director of "Toy Story" and other Pixar epics, was there for a time. Bill and Sue Kroyer were there, along with a host of other big talents. In WBFA's first year, somewhere around eight or nine pictures were in devlopment, and Bob Daley, the head of Warner Bros., couldn't make up his mind about which of WBFA's projects he wanted to greenlight. This indecision went on for the better part of twelve months, and I watched staff morale slowly deflate like a tired balloon. The caricature above is from that time. Designer/story artist Peter Gullurud is listening to WBFA exec Dennis Edwards -- a quite decent gent, by the way -- declaim against unflattering caricatures. Click here to read entire post

Monday, July 24, 2006

Pinky and the Brain

This dynamic pair arrives on DVD tomorrow. The Animation Guild's Vice President Earl Kress was one of the show's talented writers; TAG board member Russ Calabrese was one of its directors. "P & B" was one of the greatest animated series to ever grace American television screens. Run to your nearest video outlet and pick up a copy. Your loved ones will be forever in your debt. And you'll have the eternal thanks of a grateful nation. Click here to read entire post

The Monday Disney Walk-Through

(c) Walt Disney Co. Burbank in late July is no place for anybody who claims a grip on sanity to be walking around outside. Saturday, the burg registered 112 degrees. Today the city was a frigid 94. Happily, I only had to walk a block to get to the entrance of the Disney Feature Animation Building. (The guards now give visitors a choice; they can either park on the main lot in the "Zorro" parking garage, or find a couple of square yards of shade on Riverside Drive and put their cars under it. Either way, they have to walk the length of a midday Phoenix football field to get to Feature Animation.) Inside the building, tech directors and animators on the first floor were bitching about how the air conditioning wasn't cooling things off much (and it wasn't. But this is one of the joys of DFA's Riverside Building -- comfortable air flow is not one of its strong suits.) The word around the studio is that the First Act of "Rapunzel" found favor at its unspooling up in Emeryville. John Lasseter, I was told, gave plenty of notes to director Glen Keane but overall liked what he saw. John's suggestions were about how to make good things better, rather than eliminating elements that didn't work. Here's hoping your summer days are cooler than mine are. Click here to read entire post

Who's Who In Animated Cartoons

I've spent a large portion of the evening thumbing through Jeff Lenburg's 380 page tome "Who's Who in Animated Cartoons"... If you're interested in animation, this is a reference book you've GOT to have. With three hundred biographical entries, "Who's Who" was bound to leave out some important players in the animation biz (and does.) But the entries between its covers are lengthy and detailed, and even if you think you already know all of the various wrinkles of an artist's life, this book will surprise you.* For instance, I learned that Norm McCabe (referenced below) was born in Great Britain, started directing shorts for Leon Schlesinger in his middle twenties, and was working on Tiny Toon Adventures in the 1990s. Or that Ed Gombert, one of Disney Feature Animation's best story artists, did character design work on television's Duck Tales. And Mr. Lenburg gets most of the details right. Disney veteran Vance Gerry did indeed end his Mouse House career working with Burny Mattinson and Joe Grant in a group they called "The Geriatricals." Woolie Reitherman most certainly did leave Disney's during WWII to serve in the Army Air Corps (although his brief stint as an airline pilot is omitted). Anyone who has a desire to immerse themselves in animation's colorful past and dynamic present should find themselves a comfortable armchair, a good reading lamp, and settle in for several summer evenings perusing "Who's Who In Animated Cartoons." I know that I plan to. *Since this post was first written, we've come to realize that Lenburg didn't do the fact checking that we first gave him credit for, and that his entry on Freddie Moore in particular perpetuates some woeful misinformation. At this point we suggest you take the information in the book with a grain of salt. Click here to read entire post

Visual Development Panel at Tuesday's Membership Meeting

Paul Lasaine for Lord of the Rings
Our panel discussion at tomorrow's General Membership Meeting will be Visual Development: Vision and Inspiration, featuring Mike Kurinsky, Paul Lasaine, and Paul Shardlow, and moderated by animator/viz dev artist (and exec board member) Cathy Jones. Pizza and refreshments are served at 6:30 PM, the panel will begin promptly at 7 PM, and the membership meeting will start after the panel (around 8 PM). . . The meeting will take place at the IATSE Local 44 Meeting Hall at 12021 Riverside Drive in North Hollywood (just east of Laurel Canyon). Advance word is that the panelists, who are among the best in the business, will be bringing samples of their work to illustrate the discussion. You'll likely see some amazing animation art that you'd never be able to see otherwise. At the membership meeting we'll be electing delegates to the IATSE District 2 convention Sept. 9-10 in Las Vegas, giving an update of the progress on our new building, and a report on what's going on in animation around town.
Michael Kurinsky, for Disney's The Little Match Girl
Michael Kurinsky's credits include Open Season, Home on the Range, Atlantis, Fantasia 2000, Tarzan, Mulan, Hercules, among others.
The Glittering Caves by Paul Lasaine, for Lord of the Rings
Paul Lasaine's credits include Lord of the Rings films, The Prince of Egypt, and dozen's of other films.
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, watercolor by Paul Shardlow for DreamWorks
Paul Shardlow's credits include Over the Hedge, Madagascar, Shrek, and Spirit, among others.
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We, the Jury (Warner Bros. Artists by Kenny Thompkins)

In the 1990s, Warner Bros. Animation had a group of board artists, designers and directors second to none. Here are caricatures of twelve of the tyros. Norm McCabe (the man in the second row, second from right) had been in the animation business since the 1930s and Termite Terrace. Norm, sadly, has left us, but most everybody else is still going strong.*
Front row, left to right: Bruce Timm, Leandro Martinez, Kathy Yelsa, John Dymer. Second row, left to right: Lenord Robinson, Keith Baxter, Norm McCabe, Art Vitello. Back row, left to right: Bruce Zick, Chuck Harvey, Doug McCarthy, Steve Donnemeyer. Drawing by Bruce Timm.
*(see the comments section for a correction.) Click here to read entire post

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Copyright, and Your Rights

The Calendar section of the Sunday Los Angeles Times has a nice article on copyright issues, "Just whose idea is it anyway?," by Marc Porter Zasada. . . Copyright is something that comes up again and again, not just because it's a huge issue for the studios that employ us, but because many of us are doing our own creating outside of the work-for-hire environment of our day jobs. But let's consider that personal creative work. It doesn't have to be a finished screenplay, or a pitch bible, or a short film. As this article points out, modern copyright law considers almost anything one puts into tangible form, including "Doodles, marginalia, kid drawings, and etc.," as creative properties. Your grocery list is subject to modern copyright law. As any of us who have taken the time to read the boilerplate language of our personal service agreements have noticed, most studios claim ownership of anything we create during the term of service. If almost anything we jot down or doodle counts as a creative property, where does that end? It dawned on me the first time I signed a PSA that if I had a dream and, upon awakening, wrote it down, that my dream could potentially be owned by the studio I was working for. Look for "Work-for-Hire Dreams" in the fall lineup of your favorite cable network. The good news is that no studio has ever tried to make such a far-reaching claim, and from the legal experts I've consulted, a studio's success in pursuing such a claim (despite the PSA language) would be unlikely. Still, the common sense advice I've heard to avoid any potential problems is two-fold: First, keep your personal creative projects and your studio work separate. Never work on (or even discuss) your private work at the studio. If you use studio resources or equipment, even if it's during your own time and on creations that are clearly distinct from anything the studio has going, then you're asking for trouble. If the studio gets wind of your project, then at best they might expect the right of first and last refusal on the project, and at worst might claim it outright. Second, if you have projects you plan to pursue while working at a studio, you should probably have them explicitly listed in your PSA and excluded as part of your work for hire. Most studios are willing to do that, as long as you're not coming up with projects that will compete with their own, and as long as you acknowledge that they might be developing similar projects independently of yours. We'd be interesting in hearing from anyone who has actual experiences with pursuing their own creative projects ( including comics, screenplays, books, etc.) while working under contract at one of the studios. Click here to read entire post

Weekend Showdown

Remember that old Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times." These are interesting times for several animation studios, with three CG cartoons opening in a three week span (The Ant Bully next weekend, and The Barnyard just a week later). Monster House is up first, and it's getting pretty decent reviews. Unfortunately, it has major competition: three other major new releases, and that pirate movie in its third week. . . Box Office Mojo gives Monster House a forecast that exactly matches the one the Sony prez of distribution made a few days ago: around $25 million for the opening weekend. I suspect it will do better than that, but this is about as crowded as a weekend could be at the multiplex. Update One: The Friday estimates are in, and "Monster House" is a close second to a still mighty "Pirates of the Caribbean." ($7.5 million vs. $9.9 million. And yes, that seems like a considerable spread, but when you consider that the per-screen difference is only $288, it bodes well for "Monster House.") "Lady In the Water" was a close third. "My Super Ex-Girlfriend" appears to have landed with a graceless thud -- down in 7th. (And ended up in 7th. Ivan Reitman can't be pleased.) Update Two: "Monster House" did indeed finish #2 to "POC," and about where Sony predicted -- at $23 million. Of course, Sony/Columbia will need a multiplier of 5 to push this pup over the $100 million mark by the end of its run, and we know from the earlier linked post that a movie has "legs" if it is 4.0 or better. ("Cars" continues to slow down, dropping to Number 10. And now just shy of $230 million.) Click here to read entire post

Saturday, July 22, 2006

The Pagemaster crew

More caricatures for your perusal -- from the era of the Turner turnaround at Hanna-Barbera, when the company was making a run at the feature market. These are from The 1995 Screen Cartoonists Datebook, caricatures of the crew of Turner Feature Animation's The Pagemaster.
Far left: Ralph Fernan by Mike Nguyen. Left: Mike Nguyen by Ralph Fernan.
Bruce Smith, by artist unknown.
Skip Jones and Rocky Solotoff (artist unknown).
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